Archives for April 2013

Ashtanga Yoga – Traditional Opening and Closing Chant

In Ashtanga yoga there are two traditional chants. One at the start of the class and one at the end.  In my classes I only do this chant in my non-beginners classes.  I do this because I think chanting can be a bit intimidating to some people.  This can be especially when they are just beginning their yoga journey.  People come to yoga for all sorts of reasons and I think that is fine, yoga has many benefits.

 

When I do teach the chant, it is is optional.  I know many of my students love it and some people just listen for whatever reason and that’s fine. I would hate someone to miss out on the many benefits of yoga because they don’t feel comfortable chanting.

Why do the chant?

I think the chant is really useful as a way to seperate your yoga practice from day to day life. If you don’t want to to chant you could take a moment to connect with your breathing.

What language is the chant and what does it mean?

The chant is in Sanskrit – an ancient language of India. The opening chant gives thanks to Patanjali, who wrote the yoga Sutras.  This ancient text can be considered the philosophical underpinnings of yoga.  If you are interested in deepening your understanding of yoga, you should definately read the yoga sutras. It was written approximately 200 years BC and has amazing relevance to our lives today.  In my mind when we say this chant we are also giving thanks to all the yoga teachers who have passed on the yoga tradition so that we can practice today.  The closing chant is more about taking the benefits of our yoga practice and putting them out into the world. You can find a  full translation of the chants here.

 

Religion and the Chant

Some people may not want to chant because they feel it is religious.  Yoga is not a religion.  It has a philosophy and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of whether they have a religious faith or not.

 

Pronunciation of the chant

This post came about because some of my students said they struggled to pronounce the chant when they are practing by themselves.  Last week I came across this wonderful video on yoga mammas blog.  The video shows Sharath and his grandfather Pattabhi Jois, saying the opening chant.  Pattabhi Jois was the founder of ashtanga yoga, he is no longer with us and the current head of the lineage is his grandson Sharath.  I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to study with both of them.  This video shows a beautiful transmission of the tradition.

 

Here is another video of Sharath chanting the closing chant.

 

Do you like chanting?  What do you like or dislike about it? Do you have any questions about the chants?

Can yoga release emotions and if so how and what should I do?

Emotional release can play a part in the transformational benefits of yoga.

Emotional Backbending

At my recent Backbending Workshop my students and I had an interesting discussion about emotional release in yoga. I would like to open up this topic for further discussion here. Backbending is one of the places where people can experience emotional resistance and release. Hip opening is another common area where people report experiencing it.

What do I mean by emotional release?

A commonly held belief by yogis is that we store emotional tension in our bodies.  Though yoga we release these emotions and give ourselves an opportunity to heal.  I think the emotional transformations that can happen in yoga also happen as we change the way we move to a more confident open posture.  This may initially make someone feel vulnerable and will ultimately empower you to shine.

 

Helen looking at extinct Volcano in Lanzorote

Montana Roja, Lanzarote

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.’ We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Marianne Williamson

Spiritual teacher, author and lecturer

Where’s the science?

picture of the book emotional intelligenceI have always been interested in science’s understanding of these seemingly alternative ideas.  Whilst there are many things that science can’t yet understand, there is some interesting research about emotions.  Many years ago I read Molecules of Emotion: Why You Feel the Way You Feel.  In this book neuroscientist Candace Pert discusses research which shows that the molecules of emotion can can be found in the body.  These findings provide a scientific framework to understand the mind and body connections.

 

Does Everyone experience emotional release in yoga?

I don’t think that everyone does, although most long term practitioners seem to accept that it part of the journey. It has certainly been part of my personal journey with yoga.  As much as I think this is a real phenomena, even with some scientific backup, it is just a belief that I hold. It is part of my model of reality and yet I am always keen to keep an open mind about my beliefs as believing in something often makes it happen and can close my mind to other possibilities.

 

If I feel upset what should I do?

Emotions from our past can come up for all of us, whether we are doing yoga or not. A yoga practice can really help you to remain calm and not get overwhelmed. Here are my tips for dealing with challenging emotions.

  • You don’t have to understand it it to let it go. Don’t get too involved as that will just feed the emotion.
  • Stay present – tune in to what is happening right now. Notice where you are and what is actually happening rather than getting wrapped up the story in your mind.
  • Use your breath to keep you present and calm.
  • It is not a concrete permanent thing – it is constantly changing, notice it’s impermanence.
  • Observe it without getting involved and it will pass.

As you develop your yoga practice you will find it gets easier to let go rather than cling to your emotions. If you find yourself getting hooked, give yourself a break. You are noticing which is an essential first step. I have found this process of letting go so liberating and healing and one of the wonderful benefits of yoga.

 

Have you ever felt emotional release during your yoga practice? What has helped you to let go of these emotions?

 

 

How You Can Open Up Your Hamstrings – Part 2

I would like to show you how you can complement your yoga stretching with self massage techniques. This a great affordable way for you to release any trigger points in your muscles and a great thing to do as part of your warm down after cycling, running, etc. If you want to include it in your home yoga practice, I suggest doing it before your practice as it will help warm your body up.

Why self massage?

Self massage is an excellent complement to stretching. It is a great thing to do if you have especially tight areas and is easy to do.  Self massage is an affordable way to get regular massage.  I still like to get a good professional massage every now and then but I certainly can’t afford to get a massage every day and sometimes that’s what a tight muscle needs.

You can use a foam roller

The easiest way to massage the legs is with a foam roller, you can buy these cheaply online. As a big fan of self massage I have invested in The Grid Foam Roller.  Which is a bit more expensive but smaller and longer lasting and I prefer it to my regular foam roller which eventually got worn down.

What is a foam roller?

A foam roller is a roll of foam that you roll up and down on, you may have seen one down the gym.  In fact if you are a member of a gym you could have a go of there’s so you can see what you think.  You roll up and down on it and when you find tight, painful spots you can either stay still for a minute or you can cross friction it gently rocking back and forth.

How do I massage my hamstrings?

eddy on foam rollerTo massage your hamstring roll up and down on the back of your thigh.  You have three hamstrings muscles.  To get all 3 of them you need to rotate the leg in and out, as well as rolling on the bottom your thigh. If you find a tight spot stop and use yoga breathing to help ease into it and relax, stay for one minute.  You can control the amount of weight you put onto it if it’s really tight, don’t over do it.  Spend about 5 minutes on each leg, a once a day if you need it or after a run, etc.  Here is a picture of one of my students who uses the foam roller every day.

How you can learn more about self massage

You can also use a ball for self massage to get a little deeper, I find sitting on a chair useful for this.  Athletes Treating Athletes is an excellent resource for you to learn how to do this for yourself with some great videos.  Their is a wealth of such videos on you tube, the athletes treating athletes resource is by far the most informative, I have found and is ran by a physiotherapist who is also an athlete.  You can see her video for the hamstrings, below.  If you want to learn more about this topic and learn how to self massage yourself, I can also recommend The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment for Pain Relief (Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief)

In part one of how to open up your hamstrings, I explained why you should stretch them and gave explained how to do a great yoga pose which is excellent choice for safely stretching out your hamstrings.  I have even more to share with you about hamstrings! Stay tuned for part 3……..

Have you been practicing the stretch I suggested in part one? How is it going for you? Do you use self massage to complement your stretching?